The Partial History of Serac Adventure Films by Michael Brown.
I got my start in the adventure film business through the encouragement of my brothers, Gordon and Nicolas, and my father, Roger Brown. My brothers and I grew up in a production office. Dad's office was part of our house. My early memories were defined by the smell of 16mm film and Dad's pipe tobacco. Dad's partners and collaborators included greats like Bob Fulton (Touching the Void) and Barry Corbett (1963 American Everest Expedition). There was a steady stream of fascinating people visiting our house in Vail. His other friends and colleagues included Royal Robbins, Tom Frost, and Yvonne Chionuard. From a young age, we learned how to ski with a backpack loaded with camera gear.
My mom and dad separated before I was born. My brother Gordon and I shuttled back and forth between our parents several times a year. Mom moved with her new husband, Charles 'Leo' Hargrave, to a cattle ranch in Montana. Leo had served in the US Air Force during WWII as a bombardier stationed out of Framlingham, England. He survived 3 planes being 'shot out from under him' and was the oldest on his crew at 23. As Staff Sergeant, Leo was nicknamed Fireball Charlie for his temper and red hair. We called him 'Dad' and knew better than to cross him. Mom was a beautiful free spirit, artist, and committed environmental activist.
I graduated from CU in Boulder in 1990. I was 24 years old and working as a bartender. Brothers Gordon (older) and Nicolas (younger from Dad's second marriage) were already working for Dad (Roger) at Summit Films. They, especially Gordon, talked me into helping out and then pushed a camera into my hands. My brothers and Dad desperately needed help with two films simultaneously, a theatrical ski film called 'The Magic Skis' and a kayaking film in Southern Mexico for National Geographic Explorer. It was a crazy year with all three brothers working with Dad and filling our passports with stamps making films in faraway places. The arrangement didn't last long; we were all ambitious and desired to forge different paths.
In 1992 Gordon and I started Serac Adventure Films in the San Francisco Bay Area. Gordon soon joined another company with his then-partner. Serac became a minimal DBA 'Doing Business As' for me to work with other companies where I mostly worked as a cameraman and editor. One job, in particular, had me 'commuting from San Francisco to Las Vegas every week to shoot a documentary film about a fantastical stage show called EFX at the MGM Grand.
In 1995 I moved back to Colorado to work for John Wilcox at American Adventure Productions. John gave me the greatest opportunities I could have ever hoped for, some beyond my capability. I worked with fantastic adventure athletes in this role and learned much about their adventure philosophy. I learned about climbing from Todd Skinner and Lynn Hill, mountaineering from Alex Lowe and Conrad Anker, Kayaking from Doug Ammons and The Snively Brothers, caving with Scott Davis, and many other pursuits and masters. Eventually, while making many adventure films, I unexpectedly developed an obsession with climbing Mount Everest. I had seen it from a nearby mountain while we were making a film, and when I looked up, I felt something powerful; I felt that I 'had' to reach the summit. In 1999, on a skiing expedition to Mount Shishapangma in Tibet, an avalanche tragically took the lives of team members Dave Bridges and Alex Lowe. I decided to move back to Boulder, Colorado, and work independently.
In the year 2000, I fulfilled the dream of climbing Mount Everest. The climb and subsequent film were a financial disaster. Still, they caught the attention of blind adventurer Erik Weihenmayer and his team, inviting me to film his historic ascent in 2001. That film was called Farther Than the Eye Can See, and the project cemented a lifelong friendship with Erik.
With the help of business partner Dave D'Angelo, Serac Adventure Films ramped up into an exciting boutique production company. We pushed a stream of talented young filmmakers out into the world for ten years. The company headquarters occupied most of the office space on the second floor of a building overlooking Boulder's historic Pearl Street Mall.
At this time, we also created the Adventure Film School, which, as it turns out, was one of the most rewarding projects of all. There will never be a greater joy than sharing and seeing a person light up at the moment of understanding. We transferred ownership of the school to a friend and frequent participant, Nasa Koski, who now runs it as part of her company, Outdoor Momentum.
In 2011, along with Erik Weihenmayer and Don Hahn of Disney fame, I produced and directed a film with wounded Iraq, and Afghanistan veterans called High Ground. The project was at a whole new level of production and both rewarding and challenging. It would lead to profound introspection about my place in the film business.
In the middle of making High Ground, Julia Buonanno and I started dating, and in the following years, we started a family and got married. We now have three boys. My family also marked other big changes. I no longer wanted to run a company or manage employees. I allowed Serac Adventure Films to shrink to an individual 'DBA.' It was a big adjustment and, at the moment, a huge relief.
We define our company's success with the films we have made and their impact on the world. The movies define success over time more than the size or the balance statement. Serac Adventure Films was an excellent incubator of many careers, and all involved are proud of their legacy. More recently, Serac and I have been working on carefully selected projects that might span several years. An example of this new way of working is our latest film, The Weight of Water, about Erik Weihenmayer kayaking the Grand Canyon. Produced by Julia and me out of our home office in Boulder, Colorado, we worked with people spread all over the USA. Editors worked remotely from Ashland, New York, and Denver. The color correction happened in Brooklyn; we recorded the music in Burbank and mixed the sound at Skywalker Ranch near San Francisco.
Film Festivals, especially the Mountain Film Festival in Banff, Alberta, has been a powerful inspiration and motivation since I first attended in 1992. I had always looked up to the prize winners with envy and awe, never in my wildest dreams expecting to join them. This, even as I co-lead adventure filmmaking workshops concurrently with the Banff festival for 16 years with longtime friend Keth Partridge. Attending every year, I saw just how hard it is and how stiff the completion can be. Then to my delight and utter surprise, The Weight of Water did receive the 'Grand Prize' and the 'Best Film on Mountain Sports' in 2018. It went from there to many more awards, mostly audience choice. I felt okay with that affirmation, shifting gears, moving to the country to be a mediocre farmer, and Dad to my three boys.